NAMES, PLOTS, SYMBOLS, SIGNS
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2. NAMES, PLOTS, SYMBOLS, SIGNS
Art does not flourish in peace. Art is the eternal battle.
2.1 Artists in the post-revolutionary reality: a found freedom or unexpected slavery?
Enough of half penny truths!
Old trash from your hearts erase!
Streets for paint-brushes we’ll use,
our palettes - squares with their wide open space.
Revolution’s days have yet to be sung by the thousand year book of time.
Into the streets, the crowds among,
masters of rhyme!
Vladimir Mayakovsky, An Order to the Art Army, fragment, March, 1918.
In attempt to reconstruct the artistic and historical background of the Soviet epoch,
which personally, artistically influenced and formed sculptor Nina Slobodinskaya, I
would like to focus on the cultural atmosphere and analyse the social mood in
Russia at the early XX century. Despite the existing vision of Russia as of the Euro-
Asian periphery, the artistic society was well informed on actual European art
movements. Russian merchants and Maecenas gathered quite important
collections of modern art, including works of such significant artists as Cezanne,
Matisse and Picasso; besides frequent shows of European avant-garde works were
organized in Russian megalopolises.
Consequently, young Russian artists were often better acknowledged with recent
artistic developments than their European colleagues. Grace to this knowledge
genuinely appeared Russian art, which no longer relied upon Impressionism or post-
Impressionism, but instead searched and created their proper artistic innovations.
For instance, Marc Chagall worked a lot in France and Germany, but he took his
Kemeri, S. Visage de Bourdelle. Paris: Chamais, 1931, p.28.
subjects and inspiration from Russian life and folklore, yet his highly personal artistic
language differed from current Russian styles
(seen at the exhibitions) for entirely abstract, nonrepresentational art. As to Vasiliy
Kandinsky, he left Russia in 1896 and was on his way to become the first completely
abstract artist, despite the fact that Russian folk art and culture played a crucial role
in his development. Casimir Malevich who’s Black Square of 1914 appeared to be
the ultimate expression of his suprematism’s school, was truly committed to abstract
painting, emphasizing the spiritual values of abstract art but basing his stylistic
searches on the ancient Russian art
. Tatlin, Naum Gabo, Pevsner, Rodchenko,
Lizzitsky, Natalya Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, and the sculptor Archipenko used to
shape an abstract sculpture and installations from modern, sometimes industrial
materials, having caused a profound effect on the development of European
sculpture; therefore - no wonder that mostly constructivism inspired the artists. From
1914 to 1922 Kandinsky returned again to Russia, attempting to help and reform
Russian art schools and museums.
Concerning an artistic panorama after the October Revolution, for a brief period the
mentioned previously artists felt free to develop and organize art schools,
establishing principles and methods which significantly influenced the Bauhaus.
These ideas were brought from Russia with Lissitzky and Gabo. Unfortunately In a
short while the official social atmosphere drastically changed and became tense;
the Communist Party decreed a socialist realism in art as the only one approved
established style. Consequently there were artists who rejected painting entirely; for
example Tatlin fully concentrated his work at industrial design and architecture,
whilst others, like Lissitzky, created graphics and posters
As we know Russian revolutionary artists were more than active, participating in all
kinds of cultural and artistic events. The idea which followed new rebirth consisted of
taking art into streets and to motivate people to become its active participants. No
wonder that three years later stage director Vsevolod Meyerhold staged a
performance which recreated the storming of the Winter Palace at the actual site
and attracted 6.000 participants.
Prutkovsky, E. The Soviet World of art. Moscow: Iskusstvo,1997, p.17.
Yakovlev, V. “Kakoi nam nujen peizazh? Zametki hudojnika”. Iskusstvo, num.5,1949, p.28.
Prutkovsky, E. The Soviet World of art. Moscow: Iskusstvo,1997, p.14.
Malevich, Victory Over the Sun (scenery’s sketch), 1913, pencil, paper,
660 × 476.
Kandinsky, Russian woman in a Landscape, 1905, oil on canvas,
400 × 568.
Malevich, Victory Over the Sun (scenery’s sketch), 1913, pencil, paper, 800 × 642.
The artists took part in the performance by creating scenery, costumes for the
spectacles, reflected in huge abstract sets of canvas and wood. The Magnanimous
Cuckold and Tarelkin's Death (both of 1922) symbolically became a culmination in
these series of sets. Malevich him-self took an active role in theatre’s life, creating the
most abstract works which for the first time were used as scenery for Kruchenikh's
. The so called Agitprop train made a tour in the
country, full of artists and actors who created plays and a broadcasting
propaganda. Unfortunately in a short while the theatre’s activities in their
revolutionary approach were officially forbidden. The only space where original
vitality and experiment still continued appearing was work of the directors Vsevolod
Pudovkin and also Serge Eisenstein.
In the end even the avant-garde art was suppressed by the State as Stalin's
government saw the socialist realism as the unique reliable style which served to
social propaganda aims. The creation of groups of artists who were seeking for a
new style, marks the period of 1922–27ss and is visually reflected in the Association of
Russian Revolutionary Artists (ARRA); its members depicted topics such as the
revolution. S. Karpov and painter Katzman were founders and leaders of the ARRA.
D. Kardovski contributed significantly, creating the whole series of illustrations,
portraying history of the revolution. In general terms stark realism prevailed in works
Yakovlev, V. “Kakoi nam nujen peizazh? Zametki hudojnika”. Iskusstvo, num.5,1949, p.29.
of Soviet artists during the II World War period. Dormidontov's Flames over Leningrad,
Gaponenko’s Slaveholders appear as illustrative examples. In regard of the
association’s activists such was the artist Lansere who exposed his paintings
(illustrating the work of Soviet construction) at the Moscow railway stations
In regard of Soviet sculpture, which treated the same officially requested subjects
and issues, it tended towards the monumental forms. In the sculptural range stand
out two famous works: the statue of Karl Marx (elaborated in 1918 by A. Matveyev in
St Petersburg (former Leningrad)) and the colossal Lenin’s memorial near town Tiflis
created by Schadr. Simultaneously the increasing influence of Western art
movements was casted away by the state in the early 1930s. The painting duo
Komar and Melamid in the West gained enormous popularity in the society using an
academic style to satirize Soviet art and politics in the 1930s
splendour, richness of colour through polychrome enamelling, and most known for
original use of jewels. In the XVIII century its work was traditionally Muscovite, but the
XIX and XX centuries marked a tendency to French influences. Peter Faberge
certainly stands out in a range of Russian goldsmiths. It would not be complete
without mentioning the Imperial Easter Eggs which he elaborated for the Russian
court and which are considered among the most exquisite of all goldsmiths' work
Matveev, Carl Marx’s monument, 1918, bronze.
Arvatov, B. "Iskusstvo v sisteme proletarskoi kul'tury". Na putiakh iskusstva, num.47, 1926, p.12.
Matveev, Carl Marx’s monument, 1918, bronze.
Chadr, V. Lenin, 1934, marble.
The Russian enamelling is presumably the most characteristic of all the decorative
arts of Russia, as well as one of the most ancient. The Greco-Scythian work found in
the tumuli of southern Russia gave evidence that Russian artificers were not
exceptionally influenced by Byzantine models; however there always were many
renowned Byzantine specimens in Caucasia. The historical collisions conditioned
Mongolian strong influences on Russian art of enamelling, as well as on all other
types of art, though at this time Western influences were also making themselves felt.
Hence the best of Russian enamels are the result of Asian and European influences
together with proper folk traditional art. The barbarian feeling was predominant in
much of Russian art; especially it may be seen in the imperial orb, from the Old
Russian regalia of the XVII century
. Regarding Russian folk traditions, they were
represented, for instance, in toys, domestic and farm utensils, carvings, door and
window-frame decorations, remained not influenced by Byzantine and Western
Arvatov, B. "Iskusstvo v sisteme proletarskoi kul'tury". Na putiakh iskusstva, num.47,1926, p.13.
Photo of a traditional peasant’s wooden house, XVIII c., Tomsk, unknown author.
After the Revolution and especially after Stalin’s political victory by 1930, fields of
culture and art in Russia were controlled, determined and dictated exceptionally by
the governmental policy. Accordingly all artistic aesthetics and style was on service
of the Soviet regime
. Generally speaking we may define three basic lines of the
post-revolutionary XX century Russian art. Two of them were a vivid reminiscent of a
foreign creative influence and the third followed the governmental statements of
accusations of Western artistic styles. The first represented the trend, developed in
Juviler, N. "Forbidden Fruit". Problems of Communism, XI, Number 3, May/June,1962, p.42.
XIX century. The Byzantine iconography was chosen to glorify the new Soviet
regime’s culture among the masses. It stylistically reproduced (the firmly existing in
conscience of the patriarchal society with strong religious beliefs) archetypes using
icon painting style and form in order to introduce new politic ideas. The main
purpose was to replace the traditional religious values: figures of saints, Jesus Christ
and God had to be substituted with new idols - Soviet Leaders, in order to achieve
their adoration, what consequently would lead to new regime’s acceptance and a
faithful obedience. In pursuance of achieving this goal, the state used traditional
devotion of Russian population to icons as a tool to conquer nation’s mind and thus
created mass-produced iconographic representations. The idolization of Lenin and
Stalin had to replace the religious feeling which was defined as a superstition,
neglected and condemned for oblivion. Thus, images of new soviet leaders had to
be collocated in the place for centuries defined for icons’ veneration and praying –
In respect of the second phase of early XX century Russian art, it may be defined as
the phase of experimentation and can be displayed by the creative work of such
artists as Malevich, Goncharova, Larionov, Popova, who created their proper
innovative artistic forms and styles having experienced an overwhelming Russian
and European artistic education, which, consequently influenced the western artists.
Those artists without any doubt were on the top of the most experimental
revolutionary and radical artistic wave of the new Soviet society
The third phase of Russian art in the early XX century is traditionally defined as a
socialist realist art in approximately 1930. The State by the moment had clear and
determined statements corresponded to art, which was considered as the main and
effective tool to impose new ideas of the new Communist Regime and to be
assimilated by nation’s minds in the shortest terms.
Some of the main traits of the established official art were following:
Idealization of the surrounding life
Visualization of Soviet leader’s adoration, to be more precise - an
implantation of top Soviet figures in people’s conscience and subconscience
as if they were religious figures, further historically defined as personality’s cult
Simmons, E. Negotiating on Cultural Exchanges. Boston: The World Peace Foundation, 1951, p.268.
Fox, C. The Exchange of Easel and Plastic Arts: Soviet-American Cultural Relations, 1945-76 (PhD
Thesis). USA: Tufts University, 1977, p.12-19.
New type of hero had to be introduced and be widely displayed in art – a
simple worker, a peasant, always linked to the theme of labour
At one hand the Soviet government exalted and praised a working class, which now
was officially recognized as the central figure in the Communist state, but at the
other hand the soviet government made obvious its requests towards the mentioned
class, proclaiming that a Soviet citizen will be honoured only if he will be an active
completely and with all his fervent loyalty. Images of Soviet workers in art had to give
a direct promoting message to all potential spectators – the depicted figures had to
manifest their optimism, happiness, trust and confidence in a forthcoming happy
future, which grace to the every day’s population’s efforts was quickly
approximating. Any neutral artistic subjects (often appeared in the Russian avant-
garde art) were not approved as did not carry in them any use, not serving for
political aims, and thus were not desirable
speech, at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934: “Artists must know life
so as to be able to depict it truthfully in works of art, to depict it not in a dead,
scholarly way, not simply as objective reality, but to depict reality in its revolutionary
development. In addition to this, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the
artistic portrayal should be combined with the ideological remoulding and
education of working people in the spirit of socialism”
Many historians criticize the soviet leadership for the declarations made in the
congress. Y. Pismenny observes: "There is no other sector of Soviet life in which Party
policy has been as inconsistent as in the arts”
. The whole theory of a communist
state functioning and the main approach was adapted from Karl Marx theoretical
works. Presumably, the young communists faced troubles in determining the exact
place of Arts, its main functions and limitations, as in Karl Marx’s works a subject of
Art’s role was not widely discussed or defined: “The development in all aspects of
social reality is determined, in the final analysis, by the self-development of material
Camilla whose The Russian Experiment in Art (New York: Harry Abrams, 1970.) is a significant research on
Russian avant-garde art, dates the end of the Russian avant-garde official active appearance at about 1922. While
Costakis, George - the preeminent collector of Russian avant-garde art, dated the end of the avant-garde period
as 1926 or 1927 in a personal interview with already mentioned Camilla Gray on November 16, 1973.
Zhdanov, A. "Official Speech of Greeting from the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Soviet
Government to the First Congress of Soviet Writers in Moscow on August 17, 1934”. Essays on Literature, Philosophy,
and Music. New York: InternationalPublishers, 1950, pp.15-31.
production. Art, like law or the state, for example, has no independent history, i.e.,
outside the brains of ideologists. In reality, literature and art are conditioned by the
entire historical development of society”
Karl Marx only hinted at the possible fruitful collaboration which may appear if art will
be at the State’s service. The communist leaders had to develop the methodology
and strict aesthetic borders by their own means.
In order to understand the origin and the roots of the planned state’s Art program
we should address to Lenin’s statements: “Our opinion on art is not the important
thing. Nor it is much of consequence what art means to a few hundreds or even
thousands out of a population counted by millions. Art belongs to people. Its roots
should be deeply implanted in the very thick of the labouring masses. It should be
understood and loved by these masses. It must unite and elevate their feelings,
thoughts and will. It must stir to activity and develop the art instincts within them.
Should we serve exquisite sweet cake to a small minority while the workers and
peasants masses are in need of black bread”
Lenin’s opinion is clear and leaves no doubt: art is not precious by itself. It becomes
only a tool to serve to the party’s needs, - mainly to attract masses. The very nature
of Art which signifies personal artistic liberty, and first of all, a freedom of choice, of a
subject matter, style, motive, genre of depiction, - everything is neglected. So far the
very condition of Art – a free creativity is disapproved by Lenin. To be more precise,
he denies its true essence, its independent value and character. With a full
conscience, he gives a verdict to the further role and fate of all art’s development in
the communist’s epoch. Lenin turns art into a slave, an obedient tool, a machine - to
reflect, to affirm, to promote and to impose a mythological state of happiness,
utopian dream, which the Soviet State finally uses as promised sweet cake to justify
an enormous work’s efforts requested from people by the government
Lifshitz, M. The Philosophy of Karl Marx. New York: Critics Group, 1938, p.60.
Zetkin, Clara. My Recollections of Lenin. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1956, pp.19-
main art propaganda sources and glorifiying descriptions of the true Soviet art achievements. There we
may follow the general line of artists’ approvals whose works are judged under the unique criteria -
loyalty to the new political regime. To see more on this issue: Сарабьянова, Д.В. Под ред. История
Искусство, 1962; Виноградова, Е. К. Современная советская графика. М.: Внешторгиздат,
1978; Измайлова, Т.А., Айвазян, М.А. Искусство Армении. М.: Азбука, 1962; Кириллов, В.В. Путь
поиска и эксперимента. М.: 1 Наука, 1967; Кудрявцева, З.Н. Искусство Советской Прибалтики. М.:
Внешторгиздат, 1971; Лебедев, П.И. Советское искусство в период иностранной интервенции и
гражданской войны. М.-Л.: Искусство, 1949; Суздалев, П.К. История советской живописи. М.:
Lenin is right when he affirms that in previous epoch the art was a privilege of the
social elite, but its obedience to a principal task as to teach the masses following the
party’s instructions brought an unexpected result to the communists. What Lenin
would not consider it is an existence of such a notion in art as truthfulness of
depiction, which was able to convince masses only if an artist was sincere in
illustration of his ideas on canvas, otherwise it brought a feeling of false and a fraud.
If artist under the social order’s pressure creates a work of art, he is not able to
transmit the idea more than formally, and masses will not perceive it as a sincere
message and unconditional postulate.
This category reflects spiritual and energetic issues of art, but its visual evidence and
a negative consequence caused by Lenin’s definition of art as a slave of the state is
an ofitsioznoe iskussto - a post-soviet determination given by art historians to
evaluate artists and the idealized soviet art, created formally. To be more exact it is
a definition given to the artists which accepted their role of the State’s servants
(sincerely not believing in communism) in exchange of social privileges, actively
producing multiples images of communist leaders, Lenin and Stalin, – always
positively, idealistically, depicted them as sacred figures as well as creating utopic
images of a light communism’s future. The idealized happy soviet reality was among
their favourite subjects, but already in the late 1950s these kinds of artists were highly
disapproved and secretly criticized by the proper Soviet society; it’s fake and false
imagery’s nature was too obvious, especially for the population which stayed in
constant fear for their lives.
Lenin’s role in art’s development did not stop there. He broadened his thoughts and
shared the more precise vision:” In a society which is based on private property an
artist produces for market, needs of customers. Our revolution frees artists from the
yoke of these extremely prosaic conditions. It turned the state into their defender
and client providing them with orders. Every artist, and everyone who considers
himself such, has the right to create freely, to follow his ideal, regardless of
everything. But then, we are communists and ought not to stand idly by and give
Сов.художник, 1978; Тугенхольд, Я. Искусство Октябрьской эпохи. М.: Гос.Издат., 1935. Хазанова, В.
chaos free rein to develop. We should steer this process according to a worked-out
plan and must shape its results
Lenin contradicts him-self promising freedom to the artists, but simultaneously taking
it away, imposing instead an exact plan to be executed together with the ideals to
follow. Saying that, Lenin hints at fact that the new Soviet state will work and
collaborate only with artists who share and confess the affirmed ideology. The future
art context in Russia will just confirm and visualize this Lenin’s promise, and his firm
From the first Lenin’s declarations artists are condemned to the dramatic conflict,
which soon is reflected in the field of Art. This conflict became a personal drama of
an every sincere and independent artist who chose this profession to be able and
freely express their feelings and beliefs; meanwhile the party took charge of their
activities and turned them into a kind of proper slaves. The most important category
and condition of free expression in Art – a spiritual category was prohibited and
neglected. Effectively on this basis art lost its spiritual aspect and even its essential
sense. The final redefinition and kind of the replacement of a notion of art as a
synonym of true, sincere self-expression happened in the late 1930. The bright
passion to abstract art prevailed in Russia during the years of The Civil War, while the
government was too busy with the main task of a proper survival and so far closed
may be defined as the most free and independent for artists and as history shows–
the most creatively productive and brilliant. Artists were full of hopes and illusions,
sincerely believing that the October Revolution would put an end to the social
injustices, bringing a better future. The communist party’s attitude towards the actual
art development was clearly defined in the article: “A waiting policy with respect to
the art of painting, as bourgeois influence was still strong in this field and didn't serve
the revolution directly"
. Never again the soviet reality could be so proud of its
democratic approach as in 1919. The recognized figures of abstract art such as
Alexander Rodchenko and Malevich were invited as lectures and professors to give
classes in the Moscow State Art School. Such legendary figures as Vladimir Tatlin,
Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner were also among the teachers.
Zetkin, Clara. My recollections of Lenin. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1956, pp.19-20.
Uitz, Bela. "Fifteen Years of Art in the U.S.S.R.". International Literature, n.4, 1933, p.143.
Young artists, interested in abstract forms had chance to attend classes of The
Institute of Art Culture, created in 1920 by V. Kandinsky.
In a short while the controversy disputes overwhelmed the artistic audiences; in 1920
professors and apprentices were divided into the discussion of the main role of Art in
revolution. They naively believed that the party would let them participate in the
vital artistic debates and in decision taking. The future showed that the party was just
waiting in order to strengthen its position and power, before revealing its true
purpose defined for art (and the role which it was going to impose to the free
thinking artists). The artists who changed the School for the service to the Revolution
developed and expanded the art of posters which would become a one of the
principle tools of the propaganda and mass attraction for the nearest decades.
The poster during the first communist’s years of governing discovered itself as a
unique tool with broad artistic means which was able to expressively and brightly
visualize the revolutionary slogans. From now and on poster becomes the most
significant ideological weapon which effectively manipulates and leads the wide
population’s mass. The Bolsheviks quickly realized its aesthetic effectiveness and
accessibility – and by 1930 this art form definitely strengthened its position.
The year of 1922 was indicative for the clear definition of the new government’s
tendency: the Communist Government celebrated 5 years of its Anniversary. It was
a significant date and therefore a number of official acts took place. The artistic
field performed a fabulous exhibition, which united the old Wanderers School of
nineteenth-century, realists together with the contemporary artists which mainly
welcomed the Revolution and sincerely expressed their hopes, fascination, and
enthusiasm in the variety of artistic imagery. It was the unique period in Russian art
development, as the state still did not show its cruelty and suppression to the artistic
field; that was the main reason why still free artists sincerely demonstrated their
admiration and joyful satisfaction of the political events. This exhibition marks the
most exciting point the artists ever achieved under the Soviet regime. No wonder
that the mentioned exhibition received the official approval of the party and
It is not surprising at all that the Wonders got such a high evaluation of the Soviet
regime: travelling through the lands of Empire and displaying social disorders, misery
and poverty, which indicated at the Governmental equivocations and revealed
Uitz, Bela. "Fifteen Years of Art in the U.S.S.R.". International Literature, n.4, 1933, p.40.
another face of the Russian reality, they reaffirmed and justified the significance and
necessity of the October Revolution. Especially Ilya Repin was outlined as an artist.
Curiously but the artist himself neglected the social significance of his painting.
Apparently Ilya Repin disapproved the new social changes of XX century Russia – it
explains his exile (on proper initiative) to Finland where he remained till his death
V. Perov, Children - orphans at the cemetery, 1874, oil on canvas.
I. Repin, Burlaks on Volga, 1974, oil on canvas.
The new regime’s unacceptance of such a prominent figure in art as Ilya Repin
quite significant and reveals the part of the society – representatives of the old
Russia, especially Russian group of intelligentsia; before the Revolution they used to
criticize the Imperial regime through a variety of artistic and literary forms and
means, but its criticism bore the form of inquiries, made to the Royal government;
they aimed to awake awareness of the severe reality in order to achieve a social
and active governmental reaction, which would consequently awake a national
consciousness and give a response to the nation’s needs. That criticism was
constructive and positive in its appeal, but it did not aim to destruct all the existed
political and social order.
Грабарь, И. Илья Репин. Монография в 2-х томах, М.: Изд-во АН СССР, 1963, 1964, C.252-281.
The subject of the Wanderers and their crucial significance for the realist art of the late XIX and the
early XX century is widely revealed in the epoch’s archivized documents and letters : Товарищество
well as in the lectures of Троицкий, Н. Россия в XIX веке. Курс лекций. М.: Искусство, 1997. The artistic
approach of the painters and their enthusiastic devotion to the activites of the artists’ group is obvious
in the work of Нестеров, М. Давние дни. М.: Искусство, 1959, C.34-51.
Therefore the same intelligentsia class showed its disagreement with the change of
the regime and the imposed new values which contradicted and neglected the
very essence of the national character, based in deep religious feeling. The
conceptual and abstract art faced dramatic changes in the social mood during the
next few years, but its crucial point was achieved in 1924, when the famous
. The artistic opposition was organized
consciously. Like in the battle’s field the enemies dislocated their troops - just ones in
front of others. Artworks of avant-garde and the ones of realist artists were exhibited
, silently proposing the audience to make a comparison and as the
public will further understand – to make a choice. Though, choice was quite an
illusion, as we already know in the historical perspective, the party already would
have taken the decision, choosing the visually direct and appealing realism.
However the party still was hiding its authoritarian nature and did not aim to openly
impose its will, instead it smartly staged the plot of the event (organizing the
inauguration of the exhibition, where the artists of the avant-garde were officially
blamed and neglected) achieving the desirable point – to give its crucial verdict to
the left art movements. The further events’ development was predictable. The
suprematism, cubo-futurism, constructivism, and rayonnism, among others were
blamed and condemned as socially undesirable. The party’s performance was so
well organized that the artists felt totally devastated. The official verdict was given
by Nikolai Bukharin which clearly defined the preference of the social mood which
was given to the realistic art
The beginning of a new artistic era was marked by the dramatic expelling of a non-
presentational art. The new artistic direction was clearly defined by the Communist
leaders. That was a significant historical point for the Fine arts. Finally artists realized -
the so called artistic freedom will not last anymore and the strengthened State finally
showed its true aggressive and possessive nature.
Moreover, it was a point when the creators and followers of a non-presentational art
had to make a conscientious and a difficult choice: whether they should continue
being faithful to their artistic preferences and in this case they turned to be a subject
of social criticism and unacceptance in the fatherland or whether they should apt
Иванов, С. Хронология. Неизвестный соцреализм. Ленинградская школа. СПб.: НП-Принт, 2007,
for compromise with a proper conscience and in that case, they would be able to
survive in the new state. The challenge was dramatic. Independently of the made
choice, all artists faced crucial changes and experienced misfortunes in their lives.
The ones who had possibilities and left the country, staying in the exile for the
decades, strongly felt rootlessness and despair, missing their fatherland, and losing
their inspirational source in face of native land. Meanwhile others who stayed and
tried to struggle for their independent artistic freedom, soon were oppressed by the
government by means of social official pressure or even condemned to death and
oblivion in the camps of concentration, bearing a cliche of a nation’s enemy
Would it be justified to suggest that ones or others had a better fate? The response
would differ in every case. The artists that did not believe in the new system but
openly manifested their full obedience and acceptance to the social order, fully
devoting their creative work to depict the series of pleasing to the Government
imagery – gained the state’s awards, financial rewards and official recognition, but
lost the battle with a proper conscience. Obviously there were artists who sincerely
believed in a new state and its methods, enthusiastically venerating its ideals in their
art. There were also artists who remaining under the political and artistic pressure still
were able to survive creatively and personally, sometimes with the artistic means, in
some cases finding neutral subjects and genres in art, which did not contradict their
beliefs and convictions. The multifaceted reality gives us the variety of responses,
mirrored in the individual fates of prominent artists. Definitely the only figure which
certainly achieved its goals through the means of art in this historical period was an
impersonal State’s machine, which in shortest terms achieved a sincere admiration
in hearts of naive people, and the fear of others.
Exactly in Stalin’s epoch artists were completely instructed on the subjects and
artistic methods they were now obligated to follow and introduce. The severe norms
were proclaimed. From now and on among the main subjects in art were depiction
of soviet communist leaders and revolution’s fighters - Lenin and Stalin. Even the
manner of their portrayal was detailed: the communist leaders had to be shown
realistically and always glorified. The curious thing which apparently was never
officially mentioned during the Soviet epoch but became an unpronounced official
law – both legendary leaders were visualized significantly higher than they really
Солженицын, А.И. Архипелаг ГУЛАГ: Опыт художественного исследования, 1918–1956. в 3 т., Paris:
YMCA-Press, 1973—1975, pp.112-138.
were. Stalin did not request realistic justice and truthfulness of the depiction in his
Other subject approved by Stalin was labour and its glorification: workers in a
factory, or a peasant, occupied by work. The party went further – it defined even a
number of strict norms of a depiction method. Realism became the uniquely
approved style. As to peasants and working-class depictions, every art piece had to
manifest optimism and joy, however only a hint of a smile on the portrayed faces
was allowed. The message had to be clear and appealing, not containing any
other coded message. The picture’s composition had to be laconic and
understandable for masses. The idea of communist’s heads consisted of creation of
Communist’s mythological space – place full of joy and happiness - kind of a fairy-
land of a forthcoming future, which would lead to a permanent state of happiness
and well-being. The multiplicity of artistic visualizations aimed to provoke associations
and in their turn make the people believe in achieve of the pictorial fairy land –
which in reality turned to be a utopic dream. The Communists did not create
anything new, but just used and substituted the existing antique archetype which
was always present in the nation’s conscience – a legendary Kitej-Grad
In order to limit a thematic variety the party declared that the use of other subjects
in art, - pointed at the bourgeois influences of the West, which were unacceptable
by the Soviet State. In 1928 the new governmental structure in definite terms settled
its requirements towards the artists under the first five year plan.
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